Archive for June, 2008

Some Irrational Behaviours of Project Stakeholders

Posted by Peter on Jun 28 2008 | Articles

People

After managing projects for many years, I’ve noticed that people - including myself - can behave in ways that appear to be ‘irrational’. It seems that our personal biases and expectations can influence our decisions, with self-justification getting in the way of clear thinking. Studies have suggested that many of these behaviours are also exhibited in certain circumstances by animals, so it’s likely we inherited them as part of our evolutionary past.

To help all Project Managers, here are some of the strange behaviours you might see during the course of any project endeavour. Knowing about these effects will help us to understand and manage the expectations of our project stakeholders:

People attach a higher value to things they own. This leads to trouble in project contract negotiations, when the negotiator will try to hold on to things that are already agreed, even thought there may be better options available.

People will search for or interpret information in a way that confirms their preconceptions. Don’t expect to be able to change someone’s mind easily, as they will ignore your carefully presented evidence if it falls outside their own biases.

Doing things because others do them. Ever been waiting to cross the road at a ‘red’ pedestrian crossing and then seen 5 other people stride into the road? Seeing other people taking action seems to give us permission to join them, so we irresistibly cross the road with them instead of waiting for the ‘green’ light.

Presenting the same data in different ways leads people to make different conclusions. We also assume other people see things the same way as ourselves.

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Nobody said project stakeholder management was going to be easy! Having some knowledge of human behaviour can help us to use the most appropriate communication strategy, tools and techniques.

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Best Practices (part 7): Self-Management

Posted by Peter on Jun 20 2008 | Tools and Techniques

And you thought we had finished at Part 6! The best things often come in ’sevens’ (Seven Wonders of the World, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “The Magical Number Seven”), so I could not resist adding this “Step 7″:

Project Managers are also Project Stakeholders, and therefore have a responsibility to improve themselves.

You must be self-directed under changing and unclear conditions. You cannot hope to stabilise the world around you, but you must stabilise yourself. If you are constantly overstressed, anxious, lacking in self-discipline and without vision then you are out of control and will have little credibility with those around you. You might be able to get people to comply by virtue of your position, but will not be able to motivate under stressful conditions, like the project progress illustrated below:

Progress

For a variety of reasons, you will probably not receive effective feedback from team members, customers or functional managers. So give feedback to yourself, like this:

  1. Find out your core strengths and weaknesses.

  2. Be introspective (”look within yourself”), and determine your ‘Personal Value Profile’ (which values are most important to you?).

  3. Shift your focus from tracking individual tasks to completing deliverables.

After a meeting, take some time to reflect on what happened. Did you create a positive environment or was everyone arguing? Did the team members leave the meeting feeling positive and encouraged? What could you have done differently? Do you have some personal biases that may be influencing your behaviour?

A great way to improve yourself is to find a Mentor. This is someone who provides their expertise in order to help you advance your career, enhance your education, and build your network. Many of the world’s most successful people have benefited from having a mentor.

  1. Take training and coaching
  2. Join a relevant Professional Association
  3. Attend Seminars and Personal Development Events
  4. Read books on self-motivation and success strategies, and TAKE ACTION

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Best Practices (Part 6 of 6): Evaluating your Project Stakeholder Management Strategy

Posted by Peter on Jun 18 2008 | Tools and Techniques

This is the final in a series of six articles to discuss Best Practices in Project Stakeholder Management, using the I-C-E cube model:

  1. Identify
  2. Classify
  3. Expectations
  4. Influence
  5. Communicate
  6. Evaluate

Evaluation

6. EVALUATE YOUR STRATEGY

Remember to regularly evaluate the success or otherwise of your stakeholder management strategy, including a re-assessment of their interest and influence.

  • Is your stakeholder management strategy working?
  • How effective is your influence and communication?
  • Check for the appearance of new stakeholders

Here are some ways to perform the evaluation:

Formal:

  • Customer satisfaction survey
  • Team effectiveness evaluation form
  • Meeting effectiveness evaluation form
  • Percentage of outstanding issues

Informal:

  • Observation and Conversation
  • ‘Managing By Walking About’ (MBWA)
  • Effective listening skills

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Best Practices (Part 5 of 6): Communicating with Project Stakeholders

Posted by Peter on Jun 15 2008 | Tools and Techniques

This is the fifth in a series of six articles to discuss Best Practices in Project Stakeholder Management, using the I-C-E cube model:

  1. Identify
  2. Classify
  3. Expectations
  4. Influence
  5. Communicate
  6. Evaluate

Communicating

5. COMMUNICATE

We are told that Project managers spend 80% to 90% of their time communicating. So you need to actively manage communication with the various project stakeholders.

Use different strategies for the different groups of stakeholders (as classified in step 2).

  • Key Players - Manage them closely and keep them fully engaged
  • Important Stakeholders - Keep them satisfied. Don’t burden them with too much detail
  • Affected Stakeholders - Keep them informed. Communicate regularly to check that no major issues are appearing
  • Other Stakeholders - Monitor them. Communicate, but do not bother them with too much information

Communication strategies

Manage the creation and distribution of project information, using a Communications Plan.

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Further than this, you need to spend time and effort to improve your own communication skills in these important areas:

  • Written and oral (involving verbal and non-verbal communications skills)

Venues for communication:

  • Internal, with the project team and organisation
  • External, with the customer, the media, the public

Types of communication:

  • Formal - Reports, meetings
  • Informal - emails, conversations
  • Vertical - within the organisation and functional group (for example engineering, sales, finance)
  • Horizontal - with peers and other groups within the organisation

We’ll look at how to develop skills with each of the above communications in later articles.

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Best Practices (Part 4 of 6): Influencing Project Stakeholders

Posted by Peter on Jun 13 2008 | Tools and Techniques

This is the fourth in a series of six articles to discuss Best Practices in Project Stakeholder Management, using the I-C-E cube model:

  1. Identify
  2. Classify
  3. Expectations
  4. Influence
  5. Communicate
  6. Evaluate

Influence

4. INFLUENCE

Some stakeholders are very powerful people, but YOU know more about the project than anyone else. There will inevitably be some stakeholder requirements that can’t be met within the bounds of your project so it’s important to explain why, and be honest up-front.

What can stakeholders do?

  • Always find fault with deliverables
  • Not provide feedback on interim deliverables and milestones
  • Delay the approval process
  • Not provide any direction
  • Steal your team members
  • Undermine your authority with politics
  • Make a case against the project in public
  • Start a competing project

People will resist change. The best way to influence them to support your project is to educate them about the benefits of the product and the project. Reframe to the stakeholder’s perspective and ask “What’s in it for me?”
Understand where your influence comes from. Here are the typical power bases for project managers:

  • Formal
  • Reward
  • Punitive
  • Expert
  • Referent

The most important thing you can do is to build rapport by making people feel important, knowing what they expect, and keeping them informed. Every person involved in a project is important to its success. A great way to gain commitment is to help them see the importance of what they are doing.

  • Keep people informed. No one likes surprises. Tell them what they need to know, when they need it. Remind team members about issues that are coming up and notify them if any plans change.
  • Know what stakeholders expect. The more you understand stakeholder’s needs, the better equipped you will be to meet their expectations.
  • Inform them about what requirements will be met, and what requirements will not be met, and the reasons why.
  • Involve them in the creation of lessons-learned.
  • Be honest, and follow the code of professional conduct.

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